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The Night the NFL Became Tiger Woods

The first thing that came to mind after Monday night’s Monday Night Football embarrassment was the following, which I put on my Twitter account (@BCBenGrossman) immediately: “I’ve never seen professional football more defaced than this in such a short amount of time. AND I WORKED FOR THE XFL.”

But as the post-game situation absolutely exploded, I started to see a familiar situation.  Even as I — and everyone else — rightfully tore into the NFL, some asked why this is such a big deal, since it isn’t affecting ratings.

But a brand is more than ratings.  A brand is a promise.  As NFL legend and ESPN broadcaster Steve Young said after the game, the NFL has always been revered over its competition.  And that is now being reduced.

That’s when it dawned on me.  From a television standpoint, the NFL has become Tiger Woods.  It is still a massive draw, and that won’t change.  But it has become a punch line. It has become an embarrassment.

For years, media members would rarely say anything negative about Tiger, as he was known to lock out those in the media who didn’t genuflect before him at any given time. But once the real Tiger was revealed, the gloves came off.

The NFL situation is similar.  Its TV partners would never say a bad thing about the league.  Why would they and risk losing the biggest property in TV?  But now that the NFL has had its Tiger Woods moment of sheer humiliation, even its own TV partners — or at least the personalities on those partners — have turned on the NFL.  When Jon Gruden and Mike Tirico are trashing the league, well, the Mayans may be right about 2012.

Even if a deal somehow isn’t done by this weekend, I doubt ratings will suffer at all.  Just like if Tiger is back in contention, golf ratings will spike.

But that doesn’t mean both brands haven’t been tarnished.  That doesn’t mean both haven’t become national punch lines.  It does mean the NFL has become Tiger Woods.